The Graphic Arts Group is convened by Ketty Gottardo and Esther Chadwick (The Courtauld), and by Sarah Vowles (The British Museum), and meets once a term to collectively examine and discuss works on paper from these two institutions, or at other London-based venues and occasionally abroad. The aim of the group is to examine prints and drawings, considered here in the broadest sense, both geographically and chronologically, and to investigate and discuss the materials, technologies, and cultural contexts of works on paper and graphic art.
In November we visited two very different places, each providing lots of interesting material for discussion.
The first was a visit to https://www.thumbprinteditions.com/, an extraordinary printmaking studio located in south London. Here, its director Pete Kosowicz showed us several printmaking techniques performed by the studio: etching, drypoint intaglio, photo etching and relief printing. Artists such as Cornelia Parker, Tracey Emin and Antony Gormley work with Thumbprints to execute their prints. During our visit, we oversaw press machines in action, while a gorgeous print by Ian Davenport was magically coming into being. It was truly fascinating to see the phenomenal artistic input that printmakers have on the process making. As one of our colleagues noted “we learned that it is printers who know how best to deconstruct images, taking them apart layer by layer, only to stitch them back together again in the process of printing with a marvellous combination of delicacy and strength”.
A visit to Deanna Petherbridge’s studio
Earlier in November, members of the Graphic Arts Group visited Deanna Petherbridge’s sunny studio in North London shortly before she embarked on her yearly artistic pilgrimage to India.
During this compelling studio visit, the group was lucky to see a selection of earlier works as well as recent drawings that were still in the making.
At first glance, the dizzying perspectives and architectonic forms in Petherbridge’s works seem as though they could have been computer generated because their highly finished quality is so unusual in today’s contemporary scene where the gestural and spontaneous qualities of drawing reign supreme. This first impression could not be further removed from the truth and upon closer inspection, Petherbridge’s time consuming and labour intensive way of working is revealed. What is extraordinary is the fact that she does not work from preparatory sketches or from photographs but starts directly on the page. Petherbridge is drawn to the fantastic austerity of drawing. With a small pot of black ink, water and thick Arches paper, Petherbridge defies CAD and sets to work conjuring complex cityscapes that act as metaphors.
The works on view in the studio were part of her ongoing series about the devastating effects of war and migration. The Wall (2019), a monochrome diptych showing the construction / destruction of a concrete fence, was Petherbridge’s response to Trump’s extreme anti-immigration policies. In Crossing the Abyss (2019), the uncertainty surrounding Brexit is represented by wooden footpaths that hover precariously above a void. The Destruction of Palmyra, a comment on the Syrian conflict, is a ghostly portrait of the UNESCO World Heritage Site shortly after its destruction by ISIS.
Although Petherbridge refrains from including human figures, the built environment acts as a stand in for humanity. In her words ‘urbicide is a form of genocide’ and many of her works also deal with the destruction of memory and heritage that always goes hand in hand with totalitarianism. She quoted Elias Canetti’s Autodafe (1935) and it is tempting to read the left panel of City on the Edge of the Abyss as a sort of desecrated library.
Thus, although Petherbridge primarily uses an architectural language, her works are far from being unemotive or detached and the recent inclusion of red ink in some of her more recent works is not insignificant. Unlike her earlier works that had a particular remote quality to them, her most recent works are like immersive panoramas that draw you in. Their specific vantage points are ambiguous, forcing us to ponder over our particular role in the destruction at play. She also seems to delight in the apparent contraction of using a mechanistic language that is often regarded as hostile in order to address deeply unsettling humanitarian issues.
Petherbridge sees herself as a ‘crusader of drawing’, a fierce defender of the vital importance of drawing in contemporary practice and envisages drawing as both a practical and theoretical endeavour. Her writing, practice, teaching and curatorial work are therefore intimately intertwined. During the studio visit, Petherbridge spoke about her life-long engagement with drawing and the group also gained a privilege insight into her ideology of drawing which culminated in her seminal publication The Primacy of Drawing: Histories and Theories of Practice (2010). This project started off as an exhibition before evolving into a major research endeavour that took over 15 years to complete.
The visit naturally evolved into a compelling conversation where Petherbridge was refreshingly open about her personal views relating to crucial artistic issues such as pedagogy in art schools, art’s relationship with politics, contemporary art’s ‘historophobia’ and its vexed relationship with art history beyond Modernism, drawing as a visual metaphor, and Duchamp’s legacy within contemporary art.
It was an absolute pleasure to spend time with this Dame of drawing!
Bridget Riley Art Foundation Curatorial Assistant
In the Spring term members of the Graphic Arts Group travelled to Copenhagen to see the exhibition ‘Art in the Making: From idea to masterpiece. An exhibition about artistic creation’ at the National Gallery of Denmark.
Professor Chris Fischer, curator of the show, led a 5 hour tour, during which the group examined and discussed together many of the works.This was followed by half-a-day in the print room, where participants gave short presentations on drawings from the collection, followed by informal discussions.
The group consisted of Courtauld students (MA and PhDs), curators and academics. On this occasion we reconnected with the Courtauld’s former curator of drawings, Dr Stephanie Buck, who joined us from Dresden with her colleague Dr Marion Heisterberg.
In the Summer term, the Graphic Arts Group session was held at the Courtauld, where Anita Viola Sganzerla and Deanna Petherbridge, curators of ‘Artists at Work‘, led an insightful visit in which the drawings in the exhibition were analysed and discussed by the group.
At the end of October, the Graphic Arts Group paid a visit to former Courtauld curator Dr Stephanie Buck, now Head of the Kupferstich-Kabinett, within the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD). We were generously hosted for a few hours within the prints and drawings study room, where plans are already afoot for Rembrandt’s 350th Anniversary in 2019. Kate Edmondson, paper conservator at The Courtauld who is contributing to the Dresden Rembrandt catalogue, was also part of the GAG group. The curatorial team offered us a fascinating glimpse into their overall exhibition theme, arranged around the concept of Rembrandt’s ‘mark’. Their panoramic approach will explore facets such as Rembrandt’s mark-making as a draughtsman, the physical traces of his teaching methods on students’ drawings and the considerable impact that he would make on later artists from Goya to Käthe Kollwitz. This pioneering research promises a rich display next year.
Following a close look at such masterpieces as the tender drawing of Saskia Sitting up in Bed and a series of etched states of the Entombment, we delved further into the Dresden collection. In time-honoured GAG tradition, group members took it in turns to present works for discussion. Our varied interests and specialisms led to a panoply of works on paper being set upon the easels: figure studies by Filippino Lippi, a glowing drapery study by Ghirlandaio, a precious Botticelli metalpoint on blue paper and an extraordinary Goya watercolour executed smudgily on ivory, among others.
As if our hosts had provided insufficient treats on our first afternoon at the Kupferstich-Kabinett, we were welcomed back again the following day for a private tour of their current exhibition, The Realm of Possibilities — Italian 16th Century Drawings. Showcasing recent research that exhibition curators Dr Marion Heisterberg and Dr Gudula Metze have carried out into the SKD’s holding of Italian drawings, the exhibition aims to introduce a general public to the strengths of the collection as well as key issues related to drawings. Various functions of drawings are considered, including drawings as designs for decorative objects, drawings made in the planning phase of paintings, studies aimed at capturing poses, and portraiture. Highlights include a balletic series of figure studies by Baccio Bandinelli, which document one sculpture from multiple angles and a positively ghoulish study for a lamp formed from a skull, attributed to Giulio Romano. We were delighted to witness artistic process in all of its vividness and experimentation, through studying Correggio’s sketch of the Madonna with St. George, which corresponds to a showstopping altarpiece in the neighbouring Gemäldegalerie.
A thoroughly enjoyable trip, and a new discovery for many of us!